Why does the IT world need another Linux distribution? The executives of Alta Terra can cite several reasons. This first installment of an interview by Vincent Danen introduces the MaxOS mission and examines some of the distribution’s most significant features. If you would like to read part 2 click here.
We’ve all heard the claims made by Caldera and Corel about their Linux distributions. Geared for the new user, they are easy to use and easy to install. From personal experience, I can say that Caldera 2.4 was quite simple to install. However, I feel it asks too many confusing questions if you are new to computers.
While Corel Linux asks far fewer questions during installation, I have encountered problems every time I installed it. To me, Corel is not the obvious choice for a new user. Although Caldera would be great for someone coming from Windows, it is not the simplest choice for an absolute beginner.
So let’s take a look at another up-and-coming distribution that makes the same claims as Caldera and Corel. MaxOS Linux, created by Alta Terra, appears to be a “newbies” Linux. As soon as I learned that MaxOS was based in my hometown, I gave the company a call to arrange an interview. I was able to speak with the president, Dexter Dombro, and the CEO, Donald Warman. I spoke to them about their current public beta and the recently released Genesis version. The following is the first part of a two-part interview.
Linux 101 installments are designed to bring IT professionals unacquainted with Linux up to speed quickly on the alternative operating system's more basic features and uses.
An interview with Alta Terra’s Dexter Dombro and Donald Warman
Considering that there are maybe three or four dozen distributions out there, the big question is: Why another one?
Real simple answer. If you can name any other distribution that would let you pull a casual Windows user off the street and say, “Go install it,” then prove it to me. Because I don’t know of one, and none of our techies knows of one. And really, what we have seen as our focus is the Windows user market. There are 350 million Windows users, and we see these people as having a real handicap when it comes to making a transition to a more stable operating system. What we set out to do from day one was focus on those people, and we set ourselves a very simple goal. If they could find the On button on their computer, they should be able to install MaxOS. And that’s what Max does. You stick it in the CD-ROM; you go for coffee. You come back 12 minutes later, and you’ve got an operating system.
There are a number of other distributions out there that require a certain amount of time, due diligence, and Linux skills in order to get the whole thing to work. For the average individual who has some Linux background, [those distributions] probably install very easily. For a Windows user who has no Linux background whatsoever, you kind of get lost. We looked at another market, basically not trying to get into the Linux market but trying to get into the Windows market with an acceptable product. And we’ve developed the product. An associate of mine who is a casual user took this home and loaded it without a problem. He was totally amazed that he could take this disk home, put it in, and 15 minutes later he had MaxOS up and running.
What’s in there?
The other thing we set out to do was deliberately exclude any GNOME, because of the instability problems. Every single application and utility we have on our desktop we know is stable. And at the same time, all the resources you could possibly ask for are in there. So whether you’re a developer or gamer or somebody who wants to run a network, you’ll still have Apache, and you’ll have Kdeveloper. All those tools are still there, like gcc if you want to write your C programs. But we have set it up in such a way that hopefully the casual user can say, “Well, why on earth am I fighting with the blue screen of death?”
And on the applications side, we’ve really made an effort to make sure that if we don’t have it on the CD, we are at least partnered and linked with people who can provide you with the application you want, whether you’re a casual user or a small business or a law office.
We’ve kind of come out with a disk that gives a one-time or first-time user the need to go buy the one disk, and then he’s done buying. He sticks in the disk, and with the number of partner programs we’ve got, he’s got StarOffice, which gives him the full office suite, and ThinkFree, which is fully compatible with Microsoft Office. There are two educational-type partners that are offering a variety of Linux courses now and will be offering MaxOS certification programs. You can actually click on the disk, and then go through and order it. They’ll supply you with Linux courses and a whole variety of other educational packages.
VMware is in there, which gives you a pile of other options. In all probability, it’s going to be included on the disk for a 30-day trial, and at the end of 30 days you have to buy it or it drops off. But that way, we’re not charging clients for something they don’t want. If you want to, you have the opportunity to try it and use it. If you like it, you click on it, you make the arrangements to purchase it, and away you go.
We’re doing the same with some accounting packages, and so on. But we’re making sure [the application] spectrum is covered, and that it is stable.
You’re primarily targeting Windows then, as far as ease of use goes, instead of Caldera or Corel.
Let’s take it one step further. When we talk ease of use, I can see where a lot of Linux people would appreciate us, because a lot of Linux guys I know rebuild their box at least once every two weeks, right?
(Laughs.) That would be me.
And wouldn’t you rather get your install over with, without spending a lot of time fooling around; get your configuring done and get on with your project?
Exactly. And so, from that point of view, I think we really offer something for those people as well. Because, is it really configuring your SoundBlaster that is the issue, or is it getting on with your development project?
Or even something as simple as I just want to listen to my MP3s right now, not wait an hour to be able to do that.
Right, and if you can get it all up and running within 15 minutes, then you’re laughing. And not to slight our competitors, if you want to call them competitors. By contrast, we immediately went out and got the Corel CD, and we had one of our techies install it, and we ended up with no sound card and no modem.
You got further than I ever did. I couldn’t even get it to install.
So you know what I mean. This is not easy for consumers. And that’s why you see those blue Corel boxes on all the shelves stacked high because it didn’t take long for word to get out that it’s all very nice and flashy if you’re a Linux techie.
Are you familiar with FreeWeb? It’s an Internet service, and it’s growing big in the U.S. This is similar to America Online. [FreeWeb] has 1,500 call-up sites throughout North America; it’s got a few in Alberta. They’re scattered all over. And it’s basically free Internet. We’re partnered with them, and that’s coming out on the disk as well.
So a person who’s picking up a copy of MaxOS automatically has free Internet?
Right. If you have MaxOS, you’ve got free Internet. You also have Netscape, you’ve got two office suites and educational programs, and you can still run your Windows programs under Linux if you don’t want to convert back to Windows.
The other things we’ve done are things that will make people feel a little more comfortable, we hope, with what they’re used to. So we have something like My Computer. It says Max Computer, and you go in there and it shows you a C: drive and an A: drive, and things like that, and we’ve created a Control Panel setting for people so that they’re not immediately wondering “Well, what do I do with the console?”
Right, so they’re not looking forever for how to configure things.
We have gone out there and done our best with the GUI, and we have done our best with our hardware probing and maxed it out all we could. We’re probably 85 percent hardware compliant, and if your video card is VESA II compliant, which is again 85 percent of the market, we’ve got it covered. Unfortunately, Linux has some hardware challenges. But then, so does Windows. I’ve had lots of stuff put into my Windows box that didn’t run either, so I’m not going to cry in my soup about that, but I think that for your everyday average PC, you’re going to be just fine. If you’ve got some weird concoction of stuff in there, well, you may have some challenges. But again, I don’t think that’s necessarily the majority of our target market.
In the next installment, find out how MaxOS may fit in the gaming market and learn about Alta Terra’s future development plans. If you'd like to share your opinion, please post a comment below or send the editor an e-mail.
Vincent Danen works on the Red Hat Security Response Team and lives in Canada. He has been writing about and developing on Linux for over 10 years and is a veteran Mac user.